Asking about Guns: The Life You Save will be Your Child’s

Have you had the conversation about guns with your kids’ friends’ parents?

It’s super awkward, I know. I know because I have it all the time, and it doesn’t really get less awkward. Here is how it’s supposed to go:

Me: Before Lamb comes over, I want to make sure that we’re on the same page regarding safety. Our family doesn’t own any guns, but we know many families do. We hope that they will follow the NRA’s guidelines that guns and ammunition should be locked separately. Do you have guns, and, if you do, are they secured this way?

Other Parent: Of course! We do own guns, but we always store them fully unloaded and locked separately from ammunition. Gun safety is important to us, so I’m glad you asked. Would you like to see how the guns are secured so that you feel better about her coming to play?

In reality, it has one like this when I speak to a parent who owns a gun:

Me: Lamb isn’t allowed to go to houses where there are guns that aren’t locked up like the NRA suggests–guns and ammo locked separately.

[Both children give me a pleading look. Husband tries to intervene to explain that I’m less judgmental than I sound. I shut them up by repeating the question with a bright smile: “Do you have guns that aren’t locked up?”]

Other Parent: Well, uh, we do have guns. But we keep them in a room where the kids aren’t allowed to go.

Me: Are they unloaded and locked separately from their ammunition?

Other Parent: Well, no, but we could lock the bedroom door while Lamb is here.

Me: But you can’t lock the ammunition separately from the weapons?

Other Parent: Well, my spouse is a [police officer, veteran, avid hunter], so…

Me: We appreciate the invitation, but Lamb won’t be able to play here, then. But we are happy to meet up sometime at the park, or little Kitty can always come over to our house.

And that’s it.

Every time. Since we moved to a new town in a gun-heavy state, we have found just four friends whose parents don’t keep guns in the home, and none of our friends who keep guns in the home lock them up. None. Not the family of five kids–three of them EXACTLY my kids’ ages–across the street or the girl next door, who is sweet as candy.

Image result for child with gun bulletin board

According to research by Everytown for Gun Safety, 70% of accidental shootings could be prevented simply by locking up a gun. 

But we do host kids a lot. We use our invitations to normalize this conversation. So they go like this:

Would Shark like to come over to play with Bananas one day this weekend? We’d love to host either Saturday or Sunday, any time. A few things to know at our house: 1) We have a small, nonshedding dog. If Shark doesn’t like dogs, we’re happy to kennel him. 2) I will be home the whole time, and we won’t have any adults or teens other than me, my husband, and Banana’s older brother. Whenever Shark is in our house, we won’t have any other kids in the house without your permission. 3) We keep all our medications in a lock box and don’t maintain a liquor cabinet. and 4) We don’t have any guns of any kind, and if Bananas is invited to your home, we would ask that if you do own guns, you empty them completely, including the chamber, and lock the weapons and the ammunition separately, as the NRA suggests. If you don’t have a lock box for the gun and ammunition, we may be able to provide one during their visit, though we don’t have a safe for long guns.

It is easier to do in writing or text than in person, though it can be harder to tell if the person is lying. And I’ve found that by embedding the gun issue into a list of safety concerns and offering it up first helps people feel like this is a standard procedure, not an accusation about their parenting.

So what I’m saying is:

  • You can change how adults talk about gun safety by talking about it frankly.
  • You can’t assume that people your family likes won’t have guns or that they will lock them securely. Ask, and ask every single time since people may add weapons to their home.
  • Train your children to ask. We started early and were adamant that our children had to be able to ask this question on their own. Even though we, as parents, clear it before we arrive, we also have our children ask at the door. We coach them to embed it in other questions about etiquette: “Do you want me to take my shoes off when I’m visiting? Do you have a gun in the house, and, if you do, is it locked up? How is it locked up?”
  • It doesn’t matter if your child is trained on gun safety. Our oldest got an outstanding score in his hunter’s safety course (not that we hunt–we just wanted him to learn a bit about gun safety) and has gone through gun safety training in Boy Scouts. And none of that matters. Kids who have been trained in the NRA’s Eddie the Eagle program still touch a found gun before they get an adult. Teens are likely to be egged on by peers to touch a gun that they find. And, for crying out loud, just because your child knows to get an adult doesn’t mean that the other children in the room do. Your child could be dead before he even realizes that there is a gun in the room.  He won’t have an opportunity to make a smart choice.
  • This conversation will be awkward, but it is less awkward than sharing a fence with a neighbor who let your child die.
  • This conversation may cost you friends. That is okay. People who refuse to lock up firearms and ammunition separately are not truly hospitable to you no matter how friendly they are in other contexts.

And, eventually, it works.

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We had a scary gun experience this summer. A boy in Mr. Prickle’s social group pulled an air pistol (which looks like a real gun and was forbidden in this context–but not locked up by his parents) out of his backpack on a campout. Mr. Prickles did not tell an adult (And this is after a lifetime of continual gun safety lectures, plus that A+ in hunter’s safety!) until days later.

But we eventually nailed it. He developed a new friendship this fall. He asked recently to go to the child’s house. Here is how our conversation went:

Mr. Prickles: Can I go to Alligator’s house after school today to do homework and hang out?
Me: Do his—
Mr. P: Nope.
Me: Did you ask him or his–
Mr. P: Asked his mother. She’s a single mom and the only adult who lives there. He’s got two younger brothers and no older siblings who might have gun.
Me: And you asked—
Mr. P: I asked HER, not Alligator.
Me: And did she say, “Oh, the guns are out of reach or—”
Mr. P: She said, “We don’t have any guns in this house, and we do not have visitors who would bring guns into this house.” And, yes, I made sure she said these words out loud, not just nodded to me.

So–keep it up! The life you save will be your child’s.

Honey

Honey

 

 

 

Foxhole Advice: Worries about Mom and Baby’s Health

Dear Family Foxhole,

I’ve been an only child for 12 years now but that will all end this summer when my mother has a baby. I’m excited for her because she and my stepdad have been wanting to have a child for a few years now but weren’t able to get pregnant. Now that my mom is pregnant, I’m worried that the baby will be sick or have some other health problem or that my mom will die during pregnancy or childbirth. I know that these aren’t realistic concerns in the modern day USA, but I’m still worried and now I feel guilty about being worried because I don’t want to make my mom worried.

Worried

Dear Worried,

Trust me, your mom is already thinking about how to make sure that she and your new sibling are healthy! She is eating healthy, taking prenatal vitamins, and seeing her doctor regularly to monitor her and the baby’s health.

But you are right to be concerned. Even with modern medicine, people get sick, and accidents happen that affect our bodies. I say this not to scare you but to affirm that it’s both common and reasonable to have some worries about pregnancy.

You might not get over your worries between now and the arrival of the baby, but you can minimize them. Some ideas:

Talk to your health teacher, tour the hospital, or interview a midwife (who delivers babies), doula (who assists in the delivery, focusing on the mother), or obstetric (baby-delivery) nurse. You probably have some school project that you could use as an excuse to do this.

Ask your mom and stepdad to sign you up for a babycare/babysitting/child first aid class. The Red Cross in many towns offers these classes, and if you take them, you can charge people more for your babysitting services in the future!

Spend some time with people who have disabilities and people who love people with disabilities. Often times our worry with pregnancy is that something will be “wrong” with the baby and the baby will be born with an unusual physical feature, like cleft palate or spina bifida. Even though some of these physical features make life more challenging, there is no “wrong” way to have a human body!

Honey

Honey

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Dear Worried,

I’ll be blunt: If you are worried about what would happen in the worst case scenario, ask your mother and stepdad what their plan would be in that case. It is not “bad luck” to think about how our lives would change if our loved ones died. In fact, your mom and stepdad have probably already thought about it and maybe just didn’t tell you. Ask them directly:

  • Who would you live with if your mother died?
  • Would your biological father take custody of you, or would you keep living with your stepdad?
  • If your biological father took custody, would you still be able to see your stepdad and his side of the family?
  • If the plan is that you would stay with your stepdad, has your mother done the paperwork to make sure that would happen?
  • Would you keep living in this house and going to the same school, or would your stepdad want to move you closer to other members of your family?
  • Would a grandparent or aunt or uncle come to live in your house to help take care of the baby? If your stepfather remarried, would you still get to live with him?
  • What kind of person would your mother want to your stepdad to remarry if she died?

Ask them if they have all this in writing (a will), who their lawyer is, where the will is located, and who is the executor (the person who makes sure it is being carried out). If they tell you that you are being nosy, tell them that you are just being responsible. Maybe find some horrible cases of child custody battles on the internet to prove that they need to be prepared.

Mr. Prickles

Mr. Prickles

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Dear Worried,

I like to drive my worries away with crafting. When you are focusing on something fun and positive, it’s harder to worry. Here are some fun ones:

Get the baby’s room ready! Paint the walls, the ceilings, the trim. Make a stencil or a stamper and go to town!

Make a baby quilt or crochet a baby blanket.

Give one of your favorite stuffed animals a makeover (wash, brush, fluff, stuff, and repair any holes) for the baby.

Once you know the name of the baby, make a collage of items for each letter. (If his name is “Tiger,” you’d make a collage of items starting with T, one starting with I, one starting with G, etc.) THEN cut each collage into the shape of that letter and paste it to a canvas. Hang it on the baby’s door.

Keep a diary of your own feelings that you can share with the baby one day.

Write letters to the baby, each with a different focus. (“Our family history,” “The town where you were born,” “What I think life will be like when you are 12”). Seal them in envelopes and write a future date on them when you think the baby should open them.

Make the pages of a baby book. Make a page where you can record his birthday, weight, and length. Make a page where you mom and stepdad can write down the story of his birth (when she went into labor, how long it took, etc.), Make pages where you will stick pictures of the baby’s first bath, first haircut, first tooth, etc.

Eek! All of these ideas make me so excited for you! Crafting for babies is so fun!

Lamb

Lamb

Foxhole Advice: I want my own room!

Dear Family Foxhole,

There are three kids in our family: my brother (15), me (a girl, aged 8), and my other brother (age 5). I have to share a room with my little brother. He is so messy! How can I convince my mom and dad to give me my own room?

The Princess living in a Pigpen

Dear Princess,

I feel your pain. This is my reality, with some differences in ages.

Ask your parents for a solution. Make it the only thing you ask for for Christmas and your birthday. Stress that it is the numero uno thing you want in the entire world.

Offer suggestions.

Can they turn a room into the basement into a Teen Cave for your older brother? (It will have to have a window he can use as an exit in case of a fire. And put in a radon detector.) Could they turn a room over the garage into a living space for him? Even if it’s just during the summer (since he might get cold out there otherwise)? He’d love to be a little farther away from you all anyway.

Is there a formal dining room that you don’t use anyway? Or an office that a parent is hogging?

Or can you share custody of the little brother? Even if you just didn’t have to have him over the summers, that would be an improvement.

Lamb

Lamb

******************

Dear Princess,

Your share a room because you live in a three bedroom house, which means that two kids have to share a room. It can be you and Older Brother (OB), you and Little Brother (LB), or LB and OB. Those are the only options, mathematically speaking.

Your parents probably have some good reason for this decision. Your older brother probably stays up later and gets up earlier than your littler one. In three years, your older brother will likely be out of the house anyway, so it is nice for him to have his own space now. After he leaves, you’ll have your own room between ages 11 and 18. Freedom is coming!

Mr. Prickles

Mr. Prickles

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Dear Princess,

This is hard! It sounds like you might not be able to get your own room. So how can you make this one more livable for yourself?

First, ask for help. Since you are graciously sharing space (and I do encourage you to stop complaining about having to share if there is no other option), ask the people who aren’t sharing space to help make it an easier situation for you. Maybe have a rotation of who will help keep your little brother’s mess to a minimum. It could be a daily rotation or a weekly one (like, this week your mother will be in charge, but next week your father will). Just because you share a room with your little brother doesn’t mean you have to clean up his messes–or have to live with them!

Second, find ways that you can make the space your own AND ways you can enjoy the space together. If you both like art, for example, you could set up an easel in one corner. Maybe you like the same color scheme for the paint and curtains, or maybe you like the same music on your alarm clock. Enjoy having those things in common. And make some space just for you–for example, with a special set of sheets or a bulletin board of your favorite photos. If you need some separate space, see if your parents will let you make a little “nest” in the bottom of your closet with some big floor pillows and a flashlight. Or make a canopy for your bed by throwing sheer curtains over a hulu hoop and suspending it horizontally from the ceiling. We did this for Lamb and Banana’s  bedroom a few years ago, and it gave Lamb some daily privacy. If you want to “princess it up,” wind fake flowers and LED lights around the hoop, too, and hang it from a fancy plant hook using a few feet of tulle. Glue on some sparkles. Build a second one in your little brother’s favorite color so he leaves yours alone.

Third, remember that your little brother might not want this situation either. He probably has hopes and dreams for his bedroom that aren’t getting fulfilled because he shares it with you. Maybe he’s as disappointed to be living with a princess as you are to be living with a pig! Try to remember that your way of doing this might be as upsetting to him as his is to you.

Finally, focus on the good parts about sharing a room. Does this mean you get bunk beds? If so, you can work together to turn your bed into a fort or a submarine or an underground bunker. You have someone to snuggle with if you have a bad dream.

Honey

Honey

 

 

 

Foxhole Advice: I’m not who I said I was!

Dear Family Foxhole,

I moved to a new school (7th grade, which is the first year of junior high in my new school district) recently and decided to be more outgoing than I was in the past. It worked–kinda. I’ve made new friends, but they expect me to the goofy, loud, opinionated one. This puts a lot of pressure on me to always have some witty comment to say, which means I’m making some borderline rude comments in class that have gotten me in trouble. Parent-Teacher conferences are coming up, and I think my parents are going to be surprised to hear me called a “class clown” (if my teachers are feeling nice) or a distraction (if they are not). When I get home from school each day, I’m basically exhausted from being so much “fun” at school, so my mom and dad think of me as a quiet introvert. I’m not sure how to handle my parents’ reaction, and I’m not sure if I can keep this up!

The Secret Introvert

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Dear Introvert,

Well, this is a fine pickle you’ve gotten yourself into. I assume you’ve learned “To Thine Own Self Be True” by now. It sounds like you know who you want to be (less of a smart aleck), but how do you get there?

If your friends are true friends, they’ll let you change in this positive way. They might be confused (After all, you kind of sold them on a person who is different from what they’re ending up getting.), but there is definitely enough room in a friend group for one more quiet person.

And if they don’t let you change, then they aren’t the kind of people who want to hang out with.

And it could just be that there are other people in your friendship group who aren’t getting to be who they want to be, either. If they see you change, they might be inspired to do the same!

Mr. Prickles

Mr. Prickles

******************

Dear Introvert,

Way to go! You thought that you might like life better if you were more outgoing, so you became more outgoing. Then you realized that this wasn’t the right fit for you. I admire anyone who is willing to take on this kind of challenge and do the work to make it happen. Congratulate yourself on taking charge of your social life!

It’s easy to say “just be yourself” but hard to do. The good news is that you do have a good idea of who you are. You’re an introvert. Rejoice! That just means you find that maintaining a lot of relationships and performing in public (like being the class clown) is exhausting, whereas some people find it invigorating.

It really is just as easy as stopping it. Tomorrow, don’t make any sassy remarks. If your friends are egging you on, tell them that you’re not feeling like yourself. Fake looking a little ill when you say it. They’ll think you’re just a little tired. After a few days of this, they’ll back off.

Lamb

Lamb

******************

Dear Introvert,

There is one solution to both your problems: Throw yourself on your parents’ mercy. Before that Parent-Teacher meeting, try this:

Mom and Dad, I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve been doing some things at school that I’m not proud of.

Trust me, your parents are immediately thinking of worse things than what you are about to tell them. That’s why they will feel relief when they hear you say:

I’ve not been acting like myself. I was worried about not making friends, so I decided to be more extroverted. But I misunderstood what that meant. I took it too far and have been disrespectful to my teachers on a few occasions. They are probably frustrated with me because I’ve been disruptive in class. But it was only because I wanted the kids in the class to think I was funny. 

Your parents are going to hear this and think you are really self-aware and responsible. So you follow up with your request:

Now I feel a lot of pressure to keep that up. But I don’t like it. It’s not who I am, and it’s making me soooo tired. I’d like to use you all as an excuse to stop. When other kids are pressuring me into doing something stupid or rude, I’d like to say, “If I do that, my parents would send me to military school!” Is that okay?

They’ll agree–and, with that, you let your parents be the bad guys. It’s their job sometimes, and they’ll be glad to do it.

Honey

Honey

 

Foxhole Advice: Comparing Mothers

Dear Family Foxhole,

I’m a 3rd grade girl. A girl in my class keeps bragging about how much money her mom spends on her (the girl’s) make-up, hair, and nails. I mostly ignore her, but this week she said that my mom must not love me since she doesn’t pay for me to have these things. That really bothered me because my family doesn’t have a lot of money but I don’t want her saying that. What can I do to make Miss Makeup shut up about this?

Upset

Dear Upset,

Miss Makeup’s mom spends a lot of money to make her look different than she actually looks. That doesn’t sound like her mom loves her. It sounds like her mom thinks she’s ugly.

You probably shouldn’t say that to her, but remember that your own mom loves you enough not to make you wear makeup.

Mr. Prickles

Mr. Prickles

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Dear Upset,

You know that your mother’s love is not measured by how much makeup (or anything else) she buys you. Think about the ways that your mother does show you she loves you. Maybe it is by playing a game with you, reading a book with you, driving you to practice for a sport or rehearsal for a performance, washing your clothes, or going to work to earn money to make sure your needs are met. If you aren’t feeling loved by your mother, you can ask for her to express her love for you in ways that do make you feel loved but don’t cost money.

You don’t need to convince Miss Makeup that your mother loves you. Your love for your mother and her love for you are between the two of you, and this girl has nothing to do with it.

Miss Makeup probably brought your mother into this because you weren’t jealous of her makeup or her mother. Some people, unfortunately, don’t feel like they can enjoy what they have unless someone else is envious of it. When she saw that you weren’t envious of what she had, she decided to go after some thing she knows many kids feel insecure about: their parents and their financial situation.

Neither are her business. Ignore her bragging, but if she brings your mother or your family into it, just look at her straight in the eye and say, “Don’t speak about my family, and I won’t speak about yours.” If she continues, simply get up and move away from her. If you are required to sit next to her, request that your seat be moved.

Honey

Honey

******************

Dear Upset,

There are three issues here: Her wearing makeup. Her bragging. Her insulting you.

Her makeup isn’t yours to worry about. Forget about it.

Her bragging shows the world that she’s insecure. She should be embarrassed to tell the world that, but you can’t help her there. Forget about it.

Her insulting you is not related to the first things. She’s doing that because she’s mean. You can’t change that, either, but you can prevent her from saying mean things to you by leaving her alone.

Tell her: “I won’t be friends with someone who insults my family. You have to stop now if you want to continue being friends.” If she doesn’t stop, she’s not your friend. You can let her know that by refusing to work or play with her. If she decides that she won’t say those things any more, you can include her again. If the teacher asks what the problem is, explain that Miss Makeup criticize your family, so you aren’t able to work with her but that you would be happy to do so in the future if she is able to refrain from her nasty words. That puts all the responsibility on her, where it belongs.

Lamb

Lamb

Building our Christmas forest

Goodbye, Christmas!

I realized this year one of the benefits of a live tree: the pressure to take it down.

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In addition to our first artificial tree, this year we put up a magical forest of conifers on the mantle. We thought we’d build one each day for Advent and tuck a little candy or other prize under each as a way to countdown the days til Christmas, but we couldn’t stop.

This craft is appropriate for kids of all ages.

Supplies: paper in various shades of green, paint (We use black, white, red, rose glitter, and gold glitter paint), brushes and sponges, tape or small stapler

To do (by Lamb):

  1. Paint some of your sheets of paper with fun designs. We used zigzags, stripes, and even leopard spots.
  2. Cut paper into cones. You might have a preferred way to do this, but we never found one we loved. One idea: trace circles of various sizes (use bowls or saucers or plates), then cut out. Cut in half, and bend each into a cone. Secure with tape or small staples.
  3. Build trees out of a single cone, or stack. If stacking, add fringe or a wavy edge to tiers.
  4. If you feel extra creative, decorate by painting on little birds, squirrels, porcupines, raccoons, etc.!